FAA proposes new rules to move UAS industry forward

By Patrick C. Miller | January 30, 2019

Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published two draft notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)—one for operations over people and another for safe and secure operations.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced the proposed new rules and a pilot project to allow UAS to fly overnight and over people without waivers under certain conditions. She said the new rules are intended to further integrate drones safely into the national airspace system.

The notices propose rules to expand current regulations. The first would enable commercial UAS operations over people, using increasingly strict requirements dependent on the risk of harm posed by the aircraft. The second would enable UAS operations at night, subject to pilot training and aircraft lighting requirements.

The FAA will seek public input to identify major drone safety and security issues that might pose a threat to other aircraft, to people on the ground or to national security. Both notices will be published in the Federal Register.

Chao also announced the selection of commercial service entities to develop technology to manage drone airspace for the 10 pilot projects announced in 2018. She said three contracts were awarded to develop technology providing flight planning, communications, separation and weather services for drones operating under 400 feet.

“This unmanned aircraft traffic management system will be separate from, but complementary to, the traditional FAA air traffic management system,” Chao explained.  “It will create a shared information network and gather data that can be used for future rulemakings.”

Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), said the organization was encouraged by the announcement of the proposed rulemakings because they continue to move the UAS industry forward.

"These FAA rulemakings will help advance the commercial UAS industry beyond the current regulatory framework,” he said. “Expanded operations—such as operations over people—are currently allowed through the FAA’s waiver process on a case-by-case basis, and CNN and State Farm are among the companies already conducting these flights safely. A rule that allows for widespread operations over people without requiring a waiver will allow more operators to harness the great potential of UAS.”

Chad Budreau, executive director of the Academy of Model aeronautics—which represents model aircraft hobbyists—said the organization doesn’t anticipate that the FAA’s proposed new rules will significantly impact AMA’s current guidelines for safe and responsible operation.

“The proposed rulemakings on flying over people, night flying, and safe and secure operations are a step toward opening up the airspace for more commercial UAS operators,” Budreau said.

He added that the AMA recognizes one of the FAA’s top priorities is to put remote identification rules in place to better facilitate the integration of UAS into the nation’s airspace while also addressing security concerns.

“We continue to ask for FAA collaboration in adopting remote identification requirements that reflect the operational use of UAS—model aircraft under AMA’s safety programming—pose no new risk to the airspace. Therefore the remote identification rules for model aircraft operations should be more flexible,” he noted.